We reported on Blekko earlier this year when we tested the new search engine as part of its beta testing phase.  You can read the original Rankpay post on Blekko here – and we recommend you do before continuing with this post. Testing is over and Blekko has now launched onto the general search engine public, so now is a good time to take a look at what has changed during the testing phase and why we all should welcome this newcomer to the search engine market.

What is Blekko?

Google and Bing are examples of “horizontal” search engines, that is they look at the entire spectrum of the web.  You search for “zombies” on Google and a mixed bag of results appears: movie sites, a technical piece on the Zombie virus affecting computers, some musical references though top is the Wikipedia entry.

Contrast the same search with Blekko, except all you are interested in are the movie references.  Blekko uses a concept known as slashtags which allow the search to be specifically focused on a strand of the web, known as a “vertical search”.  In this instance, a search would be conducted using the term, “zombies/movies” and would return movie references to the living dead.  Equally, slashtags can be used to derive search results of the zombie term in a customized format for the user.  For instance, “zombie/game-reviews”, “zombie/tech” or “zombie/music” depending on whether you were looking for games, technical information or musical references.

Blekko is letting users search across that specific part of the web where they feel they will get the most relevant information and in this, Blekko succeeds…but not all the time. Blekko is the brainchild of Rich Skrenta and his team, who were also behind Topix and the Open Directory project.  Whilst they have secured venture capital funding, some $20 million, this is a drop in the gigantic Google-infested ocean.

New Feature: Auto Slashtagging

The principal new feature which leaps out from the public release version is the auto slashtags.  Slashtags can be user-generated, however Blekko’s beta testing found seven areas where automating the search delivered the best results.  These are:

  • autos
  • colleges
  • health
  • hotels
  • lyrics
  • personal finance
  • recipes

Slashtags can still be user-generated, but the 7 auto slashtags will be maintained by Blekko’s own staff, which solves one important issue with slashtags – who’s going to maintain them and keep them relevant for the broader range of users.

The impact on search results is reduced spam and increased relevancy.  Blekko is touting the fact that “content farms”, such as Ezine Articles, will be avoided in the search results with the hope that better quality sites will dominate the results.  There are two issues with this; firstly, there are still plenty of bugs in the Blekko search engine which means things do still go awry.  The second issues is that “content farms” such as Ezine are not all bad news – in some instances they are very relevant sources of content.

What Does the Future Hold for Blekko?

The search engine market is dominated by Google, with only Bing competing (having taken over Yahoo!).  The recent history of new entrants to the market is not good – the latest victim is Cuil who went offline last month, following a list of many others such as Wolfram Alpha and Search Wikia.

The odds do not look good for Blekko, but since beta testing the number of Google and Bing headhunting enquiries of the Blekko team has significantly increased.  Equally, the number of job enquiries into Blekko from Google employees has also increased – clearly some feel that Blekko does present an opportunity and has something worth having.

Blekko is looking to take a niche slice of the search engine market, but even a single-digit market share will be worth billions of dollars (remember that $20 million VC investment – not a bad return).  Equally, both the major search engines will be interested in doing a deal to add Blekko’s unique web-spinning search facility to their existing armory and both Google and Microsoft have more than enough money to buy Blekko many times over, even with a multi-billion dollar price tag.

In the meantime, Blekko is likely to be attractive to special interest groups and technical users, who can use slashtags to create their own mini-search facility which is customized to their needs.  Whether it will attract a mainstream following will remain to be seen, but a third entrant to the search engine space is a welcome development.